Recently, before she was taken away to a safe place, Theresa May pushed an amendment to the Climate Change Act through parliament changing the legal requirement for greenhouse gas emissions in 2050 to zero. This was rubber stamped without debate or consultation with any other advisor than the Climate Change Committee, chaired by Lord Deben aka. John Gummer, degree in history, ex-minister and advisor to and investor in green business. The other members are advisors and academics. A few are engineers working on green projects in academia. Not one engineer actually working hands on in the electricity or energy business is part of the consultation. One person from Shell is an advisor. The report can be downloaded here: https://www.theccc.org.uk/publication/net-zero-technical-report/
There has been criticism online and in some journals but this has been ignored by the BBC and other media, who prefer to echo the wails of anguish from schoolchildren and zealots crying that extinction looms within 12 years. Fortunately, 10 years ago another expert appeared on the scene, with excellent qualifications, and he analysed the various solutions, eventually coming to a completely opposite conclusion to the CCC. The committee is now advocating an extremely expensive and damaging solution to decarbonisation, using offshore wind, hydrogen generation and transport and carbon capture technology, none of which have yet been developed, tested or proved to be economic.
In 2009 a book was published which was acclaimed by many scientists, economists and engineers. Tony Juniper of Friends of the Earth wrote – For anyone with influence on energy policy, whether in government, business or campaign group, this book should be compulsory reading. The author was the late Professor Sir David MacKay and the title Sustainable Energy Without the Hot Air. In it, he invented a simplified unit in order to compare the feasibility of the various options worldwide. This is the Kilowatt hour/day/person or the amount of power that we use individually in a day. In the UK this was 125KWh/d/p. This equates to Terawatt hours/year, which is the amount of energy that we use in a year and Gigawatts, which is the average capacity necessary to supply it. There is a conversion chart at the end of the book. All aspects of generation and use are covered and the mechanics of transport, heating, cars and aeroplanes are explained with very clear and minimal mathematics. Unfortunately, it has been hard to find any politician who admits to having read it, despite being free on the net. https://www.withouthotair.com/download.html
David MacKay accepted that the increase in CO2 is man-made and dismissed the objections equating emissions to natural causes, though he did not have the latest research available such as that published by Professor John Christy, which has thrown considerable doubt on the CO2 theory of global warming. https://www.thegwpf.com/john-christy-on-extreme-weather-events-a-climate/ MacKay also accepted that gas and oil will start to run out, as the exploration and extraction become more difficult and expensive, though he did not then know of the enormous increase in shale gas reserves. In no way could he be accused of ‘denial’. Yet when as an advisor to DECC, (https://www.gov.uk/government/organisations/department-of-energy-climate-change) he was not apparently able to influence policy. After he left, on BBC R4, he said that when he worked out that burning American trees at Drax power station did not actually save very much CO2 he reported this to Ed Davey, who replied “Shit!” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ed_Davey DECC capped wood pellet subsidies later. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-23334466
Before he died at the early age of 49 in 2016, in an interview he gave his opinion on how the UK should go about achieving zero CO2 by 2050. He explained his frustration at the way figures had been misused. He said that, much as he admired the modern wind turbine, we may as well build nuclear power stations and run them all the time. He also said that he had doubts about carbon capture and storage- CCS- as little progress had been made. The Allam cycle gas generation had not been developed at the time.
In Chapter 26 of SEWTHA, he wrote-
‘ If we kick fossil fuels and go all out for renewables, or all out for nuclear, or a mixture of the two, we may have a problem. Most of the big renewables are not turnoffandonable. (a reference to the Wallace and Gromit advert) When the wind blows and the sun comes out, power is there for the taking; but maybe 2 hours later it’s not available any more…. This is a problem because, on an electricity network, consumption and production must be exactly equal all the time’. He pointed out the wildly fluctuating output of wind farms and explained that the fluctuations could affect the whole country. Also in the case of the UK the average demand of 40GW rises by 13GW between 6.30am and 8.30am. If wind farms cause an extra drop of 4MW per hour, our power engineers deal with this by turning up gas stations and using the huge pumped hydro station at Dinorwig. That is before the problem of long wind lulls in the middle of winter, which occur for 2 or 3 days every year and can last a week or more over the UK and nearby countries.
He concluded that, given the challenge of generating, balancing and storing 1200GWh of energy, assuming that the UK has 33GW of wind power, the long timescale of fluctuations were insuperable. He wrote- ‘How to ride through these very long timescale fluctuations. Electric vehicles and pumped storage are not going to help store the sort of quantities required’.
In chapter 27, he developed five theoretical examples of energy plans or models for Britain. I have converted all units to GW for simplicity because the use of different units in comparing the CCC report to SEWTHRA is confusing. Plan D is for Diverse, Plan N for Nimby, Plan L for Libdem, Plan G is for Green and favours wind and plan E is for Economics. The Climate Change Committee has proposed twenty times as much wind generation as plan E but only a sixth or less of nuclear. Plan E is the one which David MacKay favoured in his final interview and this assumes a large proportion of nuclear stations with a tenfold increase to 110 GW or 34 Hinkley Point C nuclear stations and only 4 GW of wind. The cost of 34 nukes at world prices would be around £500bn, which is less than building the current type of offshore windfarms with gas generation backup with carbon capture. He also proposed 16 GW of other tidal, hydro, waste wood, solar and biofuels as nuclear output is difficult to vary. He allowed pumped heat to contribute at 30 GW.
Air travel would be permitted for all cases, assuming that oil is still available and that CO2 is sucked out of the out of the air, by using all of our energy crops and burning the biofuels produced at power stations with carbon capture and storage- CCS. The CO2 is captured and put down a hole in the ground for ever. Nowhere in the world, despite many attempts, has CCS been made to work economically and a competition invited by DECC came to nothing. Power stations need energy to capture it and then the extra energy also produces more CO2, which has to be captured, and so on. This is what is proposed now and called BECCS.
In chapter 28, MacKay set out a table of comparative costs. The cost of 40 nuclear stations is put at £60bn. This is based on the envisaged cost of a Finnish nuclear station at Olkiluoto. This is of the EPR type and since SEWTHRA was written the start of commercial operation has been delayed from 2009 to 2020 and the estimated cost has risen from £3bn to £8.5bn. However, the cost of the EPR at Hinkley Point C negotiated by the government, with inflation proofed customer’s money, is around £20bn for 3.2 GW, in what has been described as the worst deal in the world. Professor Dieter Helm, who was consulted by the government on energy costs and then ignored, has suggested that, if the government had borrowed at low interest rates, as the Finns did when they built another Russian reactor with Rolls Royce controls, the cost would have halved. Had any of the other nuclear designs available and used in the rest of the world been chosen it would also have been much less expensive and built and running within 7 years. The cost of offshore wind is calculated from the actual cost of the Kentish Flats windfarm. The much larger turbines proposed in the CCC report were also not designed then and neither was the idea that they would produce electricity at a third of the cost of current offshore windfarms.
In the final paragraph of Ch. 27 the author concludes- ‘If you don’t like any of these plans, I’m not surprised. I agree there is something unpalatable about every one of them. Feel free to make another plan that is more to your liking. But make sure it ADDS UP’.
In the next part, the report of the CCC is analysed and it appears that it does not add up. End of part 1
The Climate Change Committee report can be found on the CCC website by downloading the pdf of The Net Zero- TECHNICAL Report. This is the part where the figures are, the rest being largely waffle about how virtuous we will be compared to the rest of the world. Page references are given. https://www.theccc.org.uk/publication/net-zero-technical-report/
The main point of the comparison between the two proposals is that the CCC have chosen to build minimal nuclear and rely instead upon maximum wind generation with gas and biofuels with CCS to keep the grid in balance. They propose that 59% of electricity will come from renewables, which will be almost all from offshore wind. This begs the question about whether the 41% from nuclear, biofuels, hydro and other sources will be sufficient during a lull in winter, when there is no wind for a week or more. Current peak demand in winter is 52 GW. In 2050, with electric vehicles and heat pumps in buildings, this is likely to treble. The committee’s own estimate, given on p. 21 table 2.1 is 150 GW. It is important to understand that GW for the whole year is an average figure but GW for the peak demand is what is required to supply the country when it is needed. The backup capacity shown in Fig 2.5 (p.41) is as follows:-
9 GW BECCS- biofuel, 29 GW reformed natural gas to hydrogen, nuclear 4% or 19% if 2 new additional stations added = 3.2 GW or 9 GW. Plus a little from existing hydro and ‘peaking plant’. Total approx. 37 or 45 GW. Deficit from peak winter demand when all wind and solar generation is zero = 109 or 101 GW! -Or perhaps 15 GW less if pumped heat is included. The peak of 150 GW required shown in Fig 2.5 would be twice a high on the graph! If this deficit is not met, the result will be catastrophic blackouts lasting weeks, in which there will be no light, heating, communications, transport, water, sewage, refrigeration, food deliveries or work.
The Committee proposes that the deficiency will be met by generation using hydrogen or alternatively building additional gas stations with CCS, which will be idle for almost the whole year. As the latter would be very wasteful, the method favoured by the CCC is producing the hydrogen by gas reformation. Natural gas is heated using steam, and the energy of natural gas, to convert to hydrogen and CO2. This ‘carbon’ is then captured and buried, also using the energy of the natural gas. Hydrogen would also be used for industry, HGVs, shipping and heating, as shown below. The committee estimates the cost of reformation at between £26-42 /GWh (p.59). It does not make clear whether the cost of the natural gas is included. Remember that the present cost of gas generation is around £50/ GWh. It appears that an awful lot of natural gas will be needed. And of course, aeroplanes will still use aviation fuel because of BECCS. The oil companies must be delighted, as will the Russians.
The proposal for the 59% of wind generation would require the use of much larger turbines, each with greater output. These are assumed to work with 58% efficiency, up from 40% for the turbines being installed today. The cost of these, yet to be built and run, turbines is assumed to drop from the present £145-155/ MWh , guaranteed and inflation proofed with cost going on the bill, to £40-50/MWh by 2050. Gas with CCS is expected to cost £70-80 from 2025-30 then £50-60 in 2050. One could ask why, if gas generation without CCS costs £50/MWh today, how can it cost the same with expensive CCS in 30 years time. It is not clear whether the figures are inflation adjusted. The costs of wind generation and the availability of gas in 2050 are unproven at present.
The area of our deep and shallow seabed, given in Ch. 10 of SEWTHA, is 120,000 sq.km. How the CCC estimates that 1% of the seabed would be used is a mystery. 15,000 turbines are proposed for the higher estimated generation. The area given is 9,000 sq km or 7.5%. It is not clear whether this is for the higher or lower estimate. Obviously, sea lanes and fishing would have to use most of the area. The German and Danish wind turbine industry and their UK partners must be delighted, though not, perhaps, the fishermen.